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JewishJournal.com

January 3, 2013

Georgia Freedman-Harvey: The art of healing

http://www.jewishjournal.com/the_mensch_list/article/the_mensch_list_the_art_of_healing

Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Photo by Dan Kacvinski

By the way, I forgot to mention,” Georgia Freedman-Harvey said at the end of a long interview, “I was a bone marrow donor for a stranger 10 years ago.”

That Freedman-Harvey physically gave of herself wasn’t a surprising revelation.

Nor was it surprising to find out that whether she should undergo the difficult surgery was a decision she made with her husband and two kids, and that she is now close friends with the person whose life she saved.

All of that — the giving, the family involvement, the lasting connections — is how Freedman-Harvey operates, in her work in the art world and as the mother of a son with a rare, life-threatening genetic disease. 

Freedman-Harvey, a 57-year-old native of Woodland Hills who now lives in Seal Beach, is an artist and a curator and manager of private art collections. 

In recent years, exhibits she has curated — both professionally and as a volunteer — have focused on the intersection of art and healing. She is currently concluding a year-long artist-in-residence stint at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, where she helps teens produce art and poetry so they have something to show off when they go back to school.

Freedman-Harvey is highly attuned to the isolation chronically ill teens can feel, because her son, 23-year-old Ezra, was born with an incomplete nervous system. Although medical breakthroughs have improved his quality of life in the last five years, the disease made him very sickly as a child. Ezra has complicated symptoms that include poor eyesight and weak hands and feet. He can’t feel pain, tires easily and until recently had to be hooked up to medical equipment all night.

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But Ezra’s determination and his parents’ broad vision has meant that little has been closed off to him. Freedman-Harvey and her husband, Gary, fought to make Ezra the first child with disabilities to be fully included in the Los Alamitos Unified School District, and they made sure that policy stuck.

With his parents breaking down the doors, Ezra pushed himself to become an Eagle Scout, learn how to tap dance and go to Chai Lifeline’s Camp Simcha for medically fragile kids. He would not settle for a modified bar mitzvah and led the entire service and chanted his portion at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley. He graduated high school and is now a student at Orange Coast College. 

Driven by the idea of having a broad impact, Freedman-Harvey involves herself both in big-vision concepts and worker-bee details. Once her goal has been accomplished or she feels someone else can take up the cause, she moves on.

“I like being part of startups and the unknown,” Freedman-Harvey said. “The artist in me is always thinking about the creative process.”

Soon after Ezra was diagnosed at age 2 in 1991, Freedman-Harvey founded One in a Million Kids, a support group for families with children with rare diseases. Next she created Come Walk in My Shoes, a one-day interactive fair for schoolchildren, parents and teachers to learn about disabilities. The program spread throughout California and the nation. One of Freedman-Harvey’s most recent ventures is Kacie’s Kloset, which fills cabinets in hospitals with funky accessories, cosmetics and projects for young patients. 

Freedman-Harvey, a member of Surf City Synagogue in Huntington Beach, has brought her stamp to the PTA, both as president and as district-wide cultural arts chair in Orange County, as well as to Hadassah, the Very Special Arts initiative and the Valentine Peace Project, which distributes flowers and peace poems around the world.

“A lot of what motivated me was that I wanted Ezra and [my daughter] Eliana to look back and say that they got these values that we tried to instill — the values of tikkun olam [repairing the world], hiddur mitzvah [beautifying the commandments] and mitzvot [doing good deeds],” Freedman-Harvey said.

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